Bubbles in Opposition Politics and the knives of Allies

Saturday, March 6, 2021

A year ago the pretentious opposition groups were reported contemplating an alliance to defeat the NRM, but perhaps more precisely dislodge President Yoweri Museveni, whose thirty-four years on the throne gives them itchy pimples. It is also two months since general elections concluded with NRM and President Yoweri Museveni’s triumph leaving the opposition shedding tears of deceit. While 333 incumbent MPs including 38 ministers fell, overall NRM retained overwhelming majority in the forthcoming house, 337 out of 523 seats. Only 103 MPs returned.

This time last year before Covid-19 pandemic struck, 2021 had been billed the titanic although the opposition was in tatters with cracks evidently visible as each accused the other of being President Museveni’s political mole making it hard to believe their public claim to represent the ‘genuine’ interests of Ugandans. The jostling appeared less to replace NRM or President Museveni, but more for individuals to find space in the 11thparliament to collect perks. And in the opposition, the NRM must look deeper to fish from.

NRM and President Museveni had a headache to seriously consider because the voter update concluded in December 2019 showed that there were 17,782,594 voters on the national voters’ register up from 15,277,198. The 2,505,396 new voters were going to be problematic to NRM because in 2011 and 2016, President Museveni’s score by actual votes and percentage, didn’t increase significantly. In 2016 he scored 5,971,872 against 5,428,369 votes in 2011. Kizza Besigye, the nearest challenger polled 3,508,608 against 2,064,963 in 2011. Thus, Besigye added 1,443, 724, whilst President Museveni only added 543,503 votes. 

Going by those two trends, we argued then that if the majority of new voters were young, hostile or wavering they could pose trouble for NRM. The then ongoing bullying, fake news, and misinformation on social media, old media, and at public arena, meant that these groups could become political wild dogs hard to restrain. That hostility especially on social media against President Museveni appears to be with us now. The reckless use of cold cash to appease individuals and groups, pose dangers to NRM mobilization of dependable electoral support as it breeds unending squabbling. NRM while still strong, on account of achievements and numbers, must reflect on these grey areas.

Suspicions that haunt the opposition today began three decades ago when Cecilia Ogwal, was ‘’Iron Lady” of the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC). During that time their main target of scorn was the amiable Dr Paulo Kawanga Ssemogerere, DP President General. Old Paul, as political journalists at the time derisively called him, had joined the NRM, on what he termed a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ as minister, rising to Second Deputy Prime Minister, before bolting to run for president in 1996. Sadly, he discovered that much of his support had already shifted from which DP has never recovered. Ssemogerere, as a joint opposition presidential candidate, supported by UPC brought, so much laughter, scorn, and rejection as Ugandans reminded him of his famous ‘Black Book, that never was, documenting UPC II atrocities. Ssemogerere limped off with 25% votes.

Ssemogerere was seen as a political opportunist without back-borne because with Olara Otuunu, they served the short-lived Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa’s military junta as Internal, and Foreign Affairs ministers respectively. Museveni, on the other hand, rejected serving the junta unless the NRM/A had veto powers, and went for outright victory in January 1986. It was on Ssemogerere’s ruin, that Kizza Besigye was installed as the opposition kingpin since 2001, co-sponsored by DP and UPC, and some NRM disgruntled elements who have since abandoned him, and retired from active politics. 

So, in the un-sticking deal-making among unstable Mao, Mugisha Muntu of Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), Besigye, and Robert Kyagulanyi, still finding his feet, analysts believe that 2021 is more of a devil’s bargain. The fall of Kasiano Ezati Wadri in Arua Municipality and Alice Alaso Asianut who called themselves ‘’Big is Big” is embarrassing to ANT. The uncontested record since 1996 points to opposition fallacy that they can form a credible, formidable and viable united front. 

Meanwhile, Besigye, Mao, Muntu, Kyagulanyi, Patrick Amuriat, and Henry Tumukunde are six men now claiming equal rank and a shared contempt for each other, and although are ganging against Museveni, will stay their separate ways. Besigye gnashing teeth since 2016, hasn’t taken matters lightly as he evidently stayed far away from the 2020 polls avoiding his sidekick Amuriat, the FDC presidential candidate and Kyagulayi, he must be contented for spilling political blood.

Muntu, who belatedly joined Besigye and opposition in 2005, has discovered that politics is a double-faced game in which allies become enemies to hurt rival interests permanently. Kyagulanyi, too is finding the check, from checkmates, who are using his name as a convenient vessel to their desired destinations. Impassioned tongue-wagging by politicians should remind us that even Adolf Hitler, rode on sloganeering, but as populism gathers storm before subsiding, Ugandans wait to see at which point the contending groups will intersect. For now they need to watch the knives of their presumed allies.